Since publishing an op-ed in which I discussed my rape by a fellow student at the University of Southern California, I have been asked by many a reporter how it feels to be a rape survivor on a college campus.
They're asking the wrong question.
For one, the experience of rape has not defined my identity. Being a rape survivor on campus kind of feels like being any other student on campus: I go to class, I work, I take midterms, and I try not to get hit by cars. It's difficult to judge my interactions with other people at USC based on an act of violence I experienced over two years ago, mostly because when I interact with other people on this campus, they're usually not thinking about the fact that I have been raped.
But ask me how it feels to be a woman on this campus, and I'll give you a different answer.
I attend a university known for three things: its rigorous academics, its football team, and its hot hoes.
College Magazine's "Top Ten Colleges with the Hottest Girls," ranks USC number one, apparently because all of our females are "tanned, toned, blonde and drive to the beach in Jeeps." CollegeDose.com makes use of the same unoriginal description, but with the added bonus of sexualizing a photograph of a USC Song Girl getting her leg wrapped by a middle-aged man.
And the "Hottest SlowMo Instagram Video of All Time" is from USC as well, obviously.
I see nothing wrong in celebrating attractiveness or sexuality, but I'm tired of seeing my university presented as some kind of all-access pass to sex with hot women, as if (wait for it) every girl on campus is automatically ready to have sex with every guy she sees. And I'm tired of seeing these articles shared again and again by my peers, with slogans like "Fight On Trojans!" and "Love My School!"
I didn't come to college to get f---ed. Quite frankly, I can get f---ed elsewhere. I came to USC to get educated. So why is my status as a female USC student presented -- and celebrated -- as purely about sex?
While many USC students may not embrace these attitudes in real life, it's hard to keep sexual hierarchy out of our social life when so many student social organizations essentialize the difference between men and women. Perhaps if more of the brotherly and sisterly love professed by members of the Greek community transcended gender lines, we would treat each other more like the "Trojan family" we're supposed to be.
As it stands now, however, gender-based hostility is thoroughly integrated into the USC experience, right alongside "lifelong friendships" and "alumni networks." Interspersed among my fondest memories as a college student are moments of profound disillusion:
Women are allowed into frat parties automatically, but guys have to be on an exclusive guest list. It's no secret the system is designed to facilitate easier access to female sexual partners.
At a tailgate one Saturday, I take over the grill for a guy who is enough shots deep to serve me an uncooked hamburger. He flips out unexpectedly and his friends tell me to leave.
At an officially "registered" USC party, a guy grabs me from behind without asking and (as is the custom) starts rubbing his genitals on my butt. I pull away. He grabs me again. I pull away again, more forcefully this time and walk away. He seizes my arm and yanks so that I fall over, splitting my knees and spewing blood on the concrete.
In class, my professor cracks a joke that it's a bad idea to date other professors, but it was okay in his case, "because she was really hot."
The hosts of a frat party smother paint on their hands and use it as an excuse to touch party guests. At the end of the night, my breasts and butt are covered.
I am raped. I never report the assault or seek counseling because three different students report bad experiences with USC services.
I am also ashamed.
The shame is the most devastating culprit of all. Shame is what silences us. And silence is what perpetuates these norms of violence indefinitely. The day I chose to share my story is the day that many of my peers began to see me in a shameful light. It is the day that my university determined I was out to "attack them," that I was undeserving of the Trojan name. But it also the day I left my shame behind.
In July, USC's Provost sent a letter to the USC community asserting that the university was a "national leader in procedures to deal with sexual violence and sexual harassment" and that the allegations made by 13 students in a Title IX complaint filed -- and accepted -- with the Office of Civil Rights were unfounded. Even in the midst of a joint initiative by students and administrators to implement education and policy reforms for sexual assault, I am still waiting for the USC administration to rescind this statement and publicly acknowledge that student concerns about sexual violence and gender-based hostility on this campus are real.
Because as long as it stays silent, USC keeps its shame.